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November 2020   |   Volume 22 No. 1

Working to His Heart’s Content

Mr Steve CK Lo derives his greatest pleasure from doing meaningful work. Now, after more than three decades in the private sector, he will apply his considerable passion and energy to his new position as HKU’s Executive Vice-President (Administration and Finance).

Mr Steve CK Lo is proud to call himself a workaholic. Spending 18 hours a day, seven days a week, on his job is his idea of paradise. Which is surprising because he seems nothing like the obsessive, stressed-out stereotype that such a lifestyle brings to mind. 

He has an informal, chatty manner that puts the listener at ease. The discussion is relaxed and unrushed. “Work is not a hardship, it’s my entertainment,” he insists. “I derive a lot of fun from working.” 

Enjoying life while working hard at it was instilled in Mr Lo from a young age. He is the eldest of four children in a family that had very little money, but a lot of grit. All four graduated from HKU, driven by their mother’s mantra to study hard, work hard, be righteous and follow the rules, and find contentment with what they have, rather than being greedy for more. 

From the moment he graduated from HKU in 1981 with a Bachelor of Social Sciences in management sciences (there was no Faculty of Business and Economics back then), Mr Lo was chomping at the bit to put these practices to work and get on with life. “My ambition at that time was to get out of university as quickly as possible and make a living as quickly as possible now that I had that ticket.”

Strategies with a vision 

He cashed in the ticket by joining the Jardine Matheson Group and rising through the ranks from management trainee to Chief Executive Officer of Jardine OneSolution Holdings (JOS). Over three decades, he transformed the company from a traditional office equipment supplier with about 200 employees, to one of the largest IT systems and services providers in Asia with more than 3,000 staff in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and the Mainland. 

The secret to his success was his dedication to work, coupled with an ambition to make a splash – one of his mottos is ‘play to win’, which evolved from his years as a keen sportsman. While still a trainee, he did deep research on office technology and spotted an opportunity that was in an embryonic stage and not yet on other people’s radars: within the next decade, stand-alone copiers, typewriters and data processors were likely to be replaced by integrated information technologies. He proposed that the company pivot to this up-and-coming area, which the board agreed, and they made a huge jump on the competition. 

“People said I had a vision, but what is a vision? I believe it is something supported by research and data on what the future could be like,” he said. 

Mr Lo also helped steer the company through the Asian financial crisis, dotcom bubble and SARS epidemic, so he knows a thing or two about dealing with change. It will stand him in good stead in his new position as HKU’s Executive Vice-President (Administration and Finance).

Getting in synch 

The University has big ambitions to ramp up its research and facilities and strengthen support for academic activities. Mr Lo’s portfolio encompasses all financial and administrative operations, ranging from human resources to IT services to estates to healthcare and safety. He is particularly keen on getting all these parts to operate more seamlessly as one. 

“HKU, like Hong Kong as a whole, has a lot of legacy systems and practices. My job is to share my perspective from the commercial sector and build an enabling platform that will synchronise all these areas so they can work together in support of the University’s research, teaching and service missions,” he said. 

Some change will be inevitable, but he hopes to ‘ride Mother Nature’ as much as possible, meaning he does not want to force change but to roll it out when the time is right. “I don’t want to be too aggressive in setting hard-line goals, but rather focus on measuring progress made. I’m hoping that I can work with everyone and motivate them to make meaningful change without needing a change ‘programme’ per se,” he said. 

Mr Lo will have to ride a few changes of his own on returning to HKU. As a student, he was an affiliate of Ricci Hall and spent a lot of his time playing sports and hanging out in the ‘snake hole’, as he calls the hall, where he could let his hair down. Now, after being head-hunted, he has a comfortable office on the 10th floor of Knowles Building, a floor he never visited as a student. With the new position comes a new attitude. 

“I’m actually more determined and committed than when I was in university. It is bewildering, I have come back a lot older, but with more ambition than when I left,” he said.

I’m hoping that I can work with everyone and motivate them to make meaningful change without needing a change ‘programme’ per se.